Grandpa Nat Loved His Four Roses

24 Dec

My Grandpa Nat was a baker. This meant he was often going to bed soon after we were getting up, as he would work all night baking the breads and cakes for the next day.   Or if not all night, at least he would get up pretty early in the morning to start baking.

So often when we were having breakfast, Grandpa was having his lunch or even his dinner. But before he had dinner or anything else to eat, Grandpa always had a schnapps, a shot glass of Four Roses whiskey.

When I was little, I loved that bottle. It had four roses on it. So I thought it was pretty. He kept the bottle in a little cabinet beneath the counter in the kitchen in the Catskills. We were not allowed to touch. It was Grandpa’s special orange juice, or so we were told.

My Grandpa was from Galicia. His family owned a farm there, with grain silos and a tavern. One of his favorite stories to tell was when he and a cousin were sent to clean out the grain silo and got drunk on the fumes. They got really sick. I have learned that people can die from the fumes in a grain silo. Luckily that did not happen to Grandpa.

But I remember the first time I saw “Fiddle on The Roof” with him. His eyes filled with tears. I asked what was wrong. And he said it reminded him of his home. His family had a tavern like the one in the movie. And so like in the tavern scene when they sing “To Life”: “We’ll raise a glass and sip a drop of schnapps in honor of the great good luck that favors you,” my grandfather had a schnapps for many occasions.

(I should say he cried for a reason, his entire family was murdered in the Shoah.  He cried for the life that was gone forever.)

His Four Roses was his special treat. He said his one glass a day kept him healthy! Since he lived to almost 90, perhaps it did!

He kept a bottle in his New Jersey home as well. I believe it was in the kitchen. I remember him having a ‘shot’ of whiskey there as well. But I think because I was so young when they moved into the home in the Catskills, I have better memories of him having his Four Roses in the Catskills. Also we spent three months of the summer with them, so I had more opportunity to be with my grandparents in the mornings.

Grandpa sold his bakery in the 1960s because he had baker’s asthma and needed to retire. Perhaps he has some heart condition as well, but I am not sure about that. However, in the summertime he worked for Katz’s and helped to bake for the summer crowds.

In fact, my brother got one of his first adult summer jobs as a baker: going to the bakery with my grandfather and learning all there was to be a baker. I think that is why my brother became a chemist… You have to know formulas to bake as well. So my brother often came home early in the morning with Grandpa and had a schnapps along with him.

My brother went to college at Penn State and would sometimes drive to my grandparent’s home in the Catskill for the weekend in the fall or winter. He remembers being offered some schnapps as soon as he arrived to warm up.

My brother said, “I would show up for a weekend Grandpa would greet me with a shot of schnapps from the shot glasses that were never washed just dried and stored under the cabinet!” Alcohol sterilizes the glasses, according to Grandpa!

My grandfather would share his schnapps with my Dad and other adult men. I never saw any women drink the schnapps. It was orange juice for men.

When I got older, I had no desire to drink it! I understood that it was whiskey, and not exactly a good whiskey.  And I did taste it once when I was in the Catskill during the winter. After we shoveled snow and were outside for almost an hour, Grandpa had some schnapps and offered me a taste. I had to try. To be honest, it was disgusting! I never tried it again.

Grandpa and Schnapps

My Dad gave my Grandpa a bottle of “good’ stuff for Hanukkah.

My Dad was always trying to get my Grandpa to try something better. He called Four Roses rotgut cause it would rot your guts. He would say that Four Roses was not smooth when it went down, instead it burned your intestines. For Hanukkah he would buy my grandfather some of the Good stuff, which my Grandpa would promptly put away. Perhaps he used it for guests?

Grandpa would sometimes have another shot of schnapps when something special or unusual was happening.

For example, Woodstock: after watching the thousands upon thousands of young adults pass our property that first day, Grandpa turned to my Dad and to George, his tenant and my dad’s friend, and said, “Come we have a schnapps.” He definitely needed a schnapps or two that weekend! It was a very strange time, and a little fortitude was needed.

Good news was also the time to celebrate with schnapps. There were libations of schnapps as each grandchild became engaged and then married. More schnapps with the birth of the six great grandchildren he was alive to meet. I know that when the next two arrived, my Dad had schnapps to continue the tradition.

I can still close my eyes and see my Grandpa move one of the high stools in the kitchen and bend over to reach into the small cabinet to get out his bottle of Four Roses. The only thing in the cabinet was his schnapps and some shot glasses.

We never went into that cabinet without Grandpa. It was his special cabinet with his cherish Four Roses.

 

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